Some pet lizards aren't cheap. 'Dragoncitos' can fetch a high price.

Strong demand for ‘little dragons’ fuels illegal trade, high prices

Lizards' popularity as pets attributed to popular culture

Mexican tree lizards are fetching prices in the thousands of dollars due to strong demand in the global pet market, particularly in Europe, fueling illegal trade and pushing them towards extinction.

But the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio) is taking measures to ensure the long-term survival of the lizards of the Abronia genus.

Of the 29 known species of the almost exclusively tree-dwelling genus known in Mexico as dragoncitos (little dragons), 19 live in Mexico and 17 are endemic to the country.

“They’re lizards that live in very humid forests . . . their distribution is very isolated and unfortunately several of them are threatened and in danger of extinction,” said Hesiquio Benítez, the head of Conabio’s international cooperation division.

“That’s why we’ve focused attention on how to identify these specimens and Mexico, through Conabio, took the initiative to include them in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species [CITES] . . .” he added.

The federal commission has prepared a guide that it will distribute to the Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa) so that its inspectors can become better familiarized with the range of Abronia lizards and be better able to identify them.

Drawn by the high prices the lizards can attract, people living in the states where their distribution is concentrated — Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Yucatán and Quintana Roo — spend long periods of time attempting to locate and capture the prized species.

“We’ve seen prices that go from 200 to 2,000 euros (US $233 to $2,330) and the day before yesterday we even saw an old record for 4,000 euros (US $4,660) for a single Abronia Mexicana [Mexican alligator lizard] from the wild,” Benítez said.

But according to Conabio chief José Sarukhan, it’s not the Mexicans who catch the lizards who are taking the lion’s share of the profits.

“. . . It’s the sellers in European pet shops who are getting rich,” he said.

Sarukhan attributed a surge in the lizards’ popularity on the international market to popular culture.

“These dragoncitos are very attractive. I imagine that after so many dragon movies and the different things there have been, people see these little ones that look a lot like them and say “Ah, I’ve got to have my own dragoncito,” he said.

A Mexican dragoncito.
A Mexican dragoncito.

In order to protect the Abronia genus in the wild and help members of communities who live near the lizards’ natural habitats to make a better living from the lucrative international trade, Conabio is also proposing to establish specialized breeding centers.

“. . . If we can manage these species in a way that the rural people and the custodians of the forest receive help so that they have breeding grounds and they carefully begin to breed [lizards] . . . that will help them to have a more reasonable income and a more humane trade because most of these specimens [currently] die in transit,” Sarukhan said.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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